I am always juggling about 18 projects at once, and today’s agenda was a bit of a doozy: morning meeting with chef Matt Weingarten, who I’m working on a cookbook with, visit from the stove repair guy to fix my broiler, phone call about a new chef cookbook project, another phone call about a cookbook I’m working on with Melissa d’Arabian, and email a food scientist to talk about glucose chains and molecular dynamics of corn syrup. And that was just before 3pm.
All that, and not a coffee bean in the house to brew for my morning meeting.
So, I baked scones.
We are all our own worst critics, and no one is harsher on their food than me. If you look in any one of my recipe journals (well-worn food notebooks where I log my trials, successes, and failures in the kitchen), you’ll undoubtedly find at least a dozen recipes for lemon scones. Tweaked over time, changed here and there, and sometimes pitched altogether for a new method, technique, or flavor.
My current scone obsession, though, is for these pillowy, fluffy scones that seem to hit just the right note of tender and delicious, while still being dry enough to require a hit of achingly fruity jam.
The first great scone I had was in England, of course. The second great scone I had was also in England (this time London at the Savoy Hotel, the first was at a tea house in York). Why are English scones so unbelievably delicious? Why do they nearly melt in your mouth while somehow remaining fluffy and bready and yet so tender and yielding?
I offered one to Matt (chef Matt, not husband Matt) and his eyes popped out of his skull. “Wow,” he said. “Scones,” he said. “They’re good!” with more than a hint of shock. I took it as a compliment.
Then my six year old accepted an offer of a scone and devoured the whole thing in a nano-second.
Okay, I rack this scone recipe up as a success. But don’t think that means a good thing can’t get better….until then, these are the scones I’m sticking with.
2 1/2 cups pastry flour plus extra for shaping (all-purpose works in a pinch but won’t have as tender of a crumb)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
Zest of 1 lemon
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (preferably cultured like Plugra), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups heavy cream plus 2 tablespoons for brushing
More butter and jam for serving
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silpat mat or parchment paper and set aside.
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter and place the whole bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes (you can also put the dry ingredients and the butter in a resealable gallon-size plastic bag and then turn them out into the bowl of a stand mixer). Set the bowl on the mixer and, using the paddle attachment, blend until the butter pieces are very small, no bigger than crushed peanuts.
Pour in most of the cream (save a tablespoon or two) and see if the dough comes together after 5 seconds. If it does, you’re good to go—if not, add the remaining cream and give the dough another second or two on the mixer. The dough won’t be smooth, but rough and craggy.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured worksurface and pat into a 1-inch thick circle. Using a bench knife or chef’s knife, cut the dough into 8 pieces (in half down the center, in half across the center, and the slice each quarter in half to get 8 triangles).
Place the scones on the lined baking sheet, brush the tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream, and bake until golden, tall, and gorgeous, 14 to 18 minutes depending on your oven. Cool for 10 minutes before serving with butter and jam.